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Iran Tensions Loom Over Israelis on Jewish New Year

  • Robert Berger

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, before the start the holiday of Rosh Hashana, Sept. 16, 2012.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, before the start the holiday of Rosh Hashana, Sept. 16, 2012.

Jews around the world are observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In Israel, the mood is sober.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days and is a time of reflection and prayer. Israelis ushered in the New Year with a sense of uncertainty amid tensions with Iran that have heightened fears of war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had this message for Jews in Israel and around the world. “I want to wish you all a happy New Year, a happy New Year in your personal lives, a happy New Year for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. The Jewish state and the Jewish people are facing great challenges. Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons. A rising tide of militancy is sweeping our region,” he said.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But it sees Israel as a Zionist enemy.

Netanyahu says Iran could achieve nuclear weapons capability in just six or seven months, something Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

Netanyahu has accused the United States of failing to get tough on Iran; and despite strong opposition from Washington and the international community, he has threatened to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Obama administration says it is not yet ready to draw a red line concerning Iran and continues to pursue a deepening of international sanctions against Tehran.

One man on the street in Jerusalem says Israel may have no other choice. “It is a very dangerous situation to allow a very disturbed and unstable nation like Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction,” he stated.

The fear is that an Israeli attack could spark a catastrophic regional war.

Iran has promised retaliation with its arsenal of ballistic missiles, and Israel could also be bombarded with hundreds of rockets from Tehran’s Islamist allies: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a New Year’s greeting, Israeli army Chief Benny Gantz sought to reassure the nation. “As the chief of staff, I can say that Israel Defense Forces have never been stronger than they are today," he explained. "We are confronting every security challenge facing the State of Israel, whether on our borders or far beyond.”

Still, despite the fears, many Israelis hope for the best. In a Rosh Hashanah tradition, they dip apples in honey for a sweet New Year.